Becoming By Doing

After college, many of my friends and fellow graduates (myself included) took a deep breath and stepped out into the world, thinking “I guess I’m an adult now”. I had no idea what that meant outside of the basics: get a job, get married, pay bills, die, etc. which it seemed like all adults did while I was growing up. But what does it mean to feel like an adult? To feel like the grown-ass man I was now regarded to be? I waited for everything to come together, that if I pondered it hard enough a change would take place in my way of thinking about the world and myself. That didn’t come, and I continued to hope I would for the day I felt I was doing something other than stumbling.

Recently, I made a small breakthrough on my life’s journey to have the sense that I was a real person. As our generation has so eloquently put by reformatting a noun into a verb, I was learning what it felt like to adult. This foray into adulting began when I decided to take the plunge and accept more responsibilities at my place of work. I am more than thankful for the opportunity I have to work where I do. Every day is different, but sometimes the stress of the responsibility I am given along with my inexperience can sap my confidence and my motivation. So I tried to avoid doing things that made me uncomfortable or took me out of my complacency. Although, my day-to-day job is simply finding out that it’s hard to be uncomfortable with anything the human body can do anymore. So I said yes to more responsibility, agreeing to work strange hours and helping where I could, even though up to that point I was highly anxious about my work life.

What I found through this small trial is that my life didn’t become more stressful, the opposite began to happen. While I did not want to be doing these things or accepting these responsibilities, I went through the motions anyway. I didn’t wait for the confidence and the motivation to come, I did what I felt I had to do. And soon enough, the confidence and assurance came along with it. I was handling this new challenge in my life, and I wasn’t falling apart the way I assumed I would. I rose to the occasion and found confidence in myself. This is meant to serve as a confidence booster for anyone else who is currently in my position. Believe me, I’m still in that place a lot of the time, but I’ve found a way to get past it by simply pushing through. We can’t wait around until we “feel” like an adult or “feel” like a man. Taking action and changing our environment leads to a personal, inward change. It teaches resilience and shows us that yes, deep breath honey, we can do it. Too often we think things work the other way around. But in reality we become by doing.

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things” — Theodore Roosevelt

 

Oh Hey, It’s Fall

Fall is a weird season for me. There are so many emotions and associations I have with it, and they are split about equally between positives and negatives. So I don’t really have a word for the way that autumn makes me feel. It’s almost a sort of nostalgia with sadness creeping around the edges. I think I spent a good year or so in high school feeling almost totally directionless. I would spend evenings and nights walking around town by myself, trying to keep myself moving because I didn’t have the energy or the motivation to do much else. I would stay up way too late almost every night, browsing the internet or watching TV, to the point where I would just want to crash after a few days. Then, the cycle would repeat. Looking back, I think it would be safe to say I was experiencing depression in some form or another. I didn’t want to go to bed, because I didn’t want to have to get up for another day. I try desperately hard to remember just what it was that had me so unhappy, and I can’t really come up with any definitive answers. Sure, there were stresses in my life, and at the time I liked to pile the blame of my apathy and sadness on those issues, but I can’t say that was the real reason.

I felt attracted to the darkness around me (both figuratively and literally), and I would fantasize about running into the cover of night and simply continuing until I disappeared. The night sky has always intrigued me, because when you can’t see anything, the landscape around you can take on any shape that your mind can imagine. I used to imagine, when I looked into the woods at night, that they extended on forever, covering the whole world in vast, uncharted territory that was there for me to explore. During that autumn where I was struggling, I think the night came to represent more of an escape for me. I would dream that I was flying high above the darkened world below me, and leaving all of my problems behind as my home shrunk smaller and smaller until it was lost over the horizon. It was only a fantasy, but one that I would entertain night in and night out, as I fried my brain and numbed my hurt with late night cartoons and all the bad things the internet has to offer. I still consider that the lowest point of my life, so when I smell the first fallen leaves, or feel the first cool breezes left behind as summer’s tide ebbs away, or the sunset seems to roll behind the mountain’s earlier and earlier, I feel all those feelings again. In an instant, I sense a watered-down version of that period – the pain, confusion, apathy, and sadness – all muddled together and poured back into me. Each and every year since then, while I have found direction in my life, I still struggle with sadness and depression when fall and winter swing by. I guess maybe it’s some sort of seasonal depression, but I’m not sure and that’s not the important point here.

There are also so many memories of wonderful things that autumn brings with it. Hay rides, pumpkin carving, and Halloween. Getting up far too early on a Monday morning to go hunting with my dad and brothers stands out to me as one of the greatest things fall has to offer. Even though I complained about getting up before dawn (which, I might add, I now do on a daily basis before work, and with no less whining), and I did less hunting than playing Gameboy while my dad kept lookout, in retrospect it carries a lot of value with it. Having my father with me giving me hunting lessons – how to use and respect firearms, searching for signs of wildlife, patiently coaching me as I had a deer in the sights, and showing me how to dress and drag a deer out of the woods – was affirming in ways that I am only now noticing. I was just 12, the shortest kid in the class who was still years away from puberty, but I felt like a man who had conquered the forces of nature. It is something that I will carry with me all my life, and hopefully pass on to my children with the same reverence and power with which it was given to me as a child.

And there are other things to look forward to as well. I am deeply in love with someone who feels the same way towards me. I am counting down the months and days until we are married (9 months and 3 days if my math is right), and trying not to let the excitement and stress of planning that day get in the way of me living in the here and now. I graduated college and am working in a career that I hope can bring me fulfillment and the ability to build the life that Zoe and I want to have together. God is moving in my life in ways that I probably am not aware of at the moment, pulling me back to Him after drifting away for too long. I am being blessed in more ways than I can count, and I am fighting back the anxiety and depression that is trying to subdue the hope that these things bring to me. I can’t wait to spend a cold afternoon cuddled up with someone who, while the official day is still months in the future, has felt like my wife for quite a while. We will go to concerts, pick apples and drink cider until I become violently ill, and watch as the landscape turns from summer green into autumn gold. We will take pictures of our time together, and eventually those photos will fill up an old wicker basket like my grandmother has. And our children and grandchildren will look at those photos, some of them stuck together and bent at the edges, making fun of us for our ridiculous hair and boots and flannel shirts. They will look at those photos and get that subtle feeling of wonder that we have all experienced before when looking at family photos. Wondering about what it felt like in those photographs, the conversations and relationships and memories we shared together, that seem perfect because they are in the past. Then they, too, will have the opportunity to create the same conversations and relationships and memories with other people, and they will understand the love and beauty that I have found in life.

What all this goes to tell is that while the seasons around me change, I am still in the summer of my life. While the world around me goes dark, cold, and sometimes bleak, I have so much more life to live and love to share that those fleeting tinges of sadness I experience have no dominion over me. I have the love of God and the love of a beautiful woman to drive away the fog that attempts to settle over my soul. I am once again soaring through that night sky, but this time I am headed home

God Unchained

A quick thought inspired by this comic: http://nakedpastor.com/2014/07/is-your-god-chained-to-the-bible/

It is almost daily that we are reminded that something is either right or wrong (usually the latter, unfortunately) because “the Bible says so”. There are two problems with that statement. First is the assumption that a book which has been translated dozens of times over the past two millenia is somehow an inerrant, perfect view of the world as God intended (a book, I would like to add, whose underlying theme revolves around the imperfectness of the humans responsible for these translations). Second is that we are then limiting God to a book. That seems like a big accusation, but one which many times is the truth. It’s something that I am guilty of as well, and I know it will take a long time to change my thinking. I don’t want to go so far as to say that we worship this book, but we certainly rely on it too often and for more than it was intended. Is it to serve as a guide? Yes, of course. Is it supposed to be the yardstick by which we measure our own personal beliefs and convictions? I don’t think so, and I hope not. It should be a component in the way that we create and evaluate our worldview, but not the only one.

While I don’t always know what is correct and incorrect when it comes to the Bible, there is one thing I am certain of. It is the underlying theme among the pages, which doesn’t rely on an inerrant translation to still be obvious. And that theme is one of redemption. A God who loved his children and creation so much that He died for us, and who time and again told us to spread the same love to others. This is what we can be certain of, that our calling is to love others unconditionally, and to love God the same way. This gives us a lens through which we can interpret the Bible, and show us God’s true intentions for the world He has entrusted us with.

A Call for Acceptance

Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u4Z3n2Fnyc (watch it all the way through, it’s worth it)

 

   It’s been quite a while since I’ve gotten around to posting anything on this blog, but in the last week or so the issue of how we as Christians, and society in general, treat homosexuality has been weighing on my heart. Even more so after hearing this morning’s sermon on the story of the woman at the well, and how Jesus showed love and acceptance to a woman who was condemned by society and the Jewish religion. It’s this subject that seems so taboo, as if we can’t talk about it unless we are addressing how it will somehow destroy the very foundations of our livelihood. Now it seems that someone went as far as trying to pass a bill that would allow business owners in Arizona to assert their religious beliefs by denying services to LGBT people. The fact that not only someone has that idea, but has the power and support to attempt to pass it into law, scares and disgusts me. In case you don’t realize it, we did that last century with people of African-American descent. It’s segregation, it’s discrimination, and it’s oppression. Plain and simple, it is a violation of basic human rights.

   I don’t understand how it can be okay to do these things, especially within the church which, unfortunately, is where most of this type of discrimination comes from. One thing I cannot fathom is why homosexuality is somehow treated as the worst possible sin someone could commit, disqualifying them from the benefits of a relationship with God or even the person that they love. I cannot understand how the sanctity or special-ness of someone else’s marriage is tarnished because a complete stranger wants to be married to someone of the same sex. That’s like saying my birthday is less special because I want chocolate cake but Timmy down the street prefers to eat marble. It doesn’t matter, my chocolate cake was awesome (as always), Timmy gets his marble, and everyone is happy. When we say that marriage is exclusively a Christian institution, one that exists between a man and a woman, and that this idea should be upheld in a legal sense, we begin to blend the barrier between God and Law. Which, in case you missed it, is what the Jewish people were doing when God came down to earth and died to get rid of that corrupted institution that religion had become. 

   Now I’m not trying to make an argument as to whether or not homosexuality is a sin (that’s a whole other discussion), you can believe what you want to believe, but what I’m trying to say is that we should not limit what others can and cannot do because we don’t agree with them. There is something fundamentally wrong with that idea. Jesus didn’t say to his disciples “hey, go out and take my teachings with you, and then use those teachings to impose my will upon others because anything else makes me kind of uncomfortable”. No, we were told to take His word out into the world, and to bring people to Him, where He would do as He saw fit. That is our only job, to bring others to Christ and allow Him to work in them in His loving and perfect way. We are not called to find someone who fits our preconceived notion of worthy, judge them, and then bring them to Christ, which is more times than not what we are trying to accomplish.

   That brings me to my next concern, and my call for something to change, which is our view of homosexuals in the church. It seems that it is difficult for us to accept someone who is homosexual into the church because, after all, they have the audacity to sin. It’s as if the church is going to somehow be defiled and Jesus’ word corrupted with the blasphemy of a homosexual person (or anyone LGBT person, for that matter) choosing to love and worship Christ. In case it wasn’t apparent, the point of the church is for a group of defiled people to come and be washed clean by the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. We seem to be able to grasp that simple concept when it involves any other type of sin except for homosexuality. A majority of the men in any church currently struggle or have struggled with addiction to pornography; ensnared in lust and fixated on sexual objectification. And even though that is a sexual sin, at least they aren’t gay. That is so hypocritical it makes me sick. We accept drug addicts, alcoholics, murderers, thieves, liars, cheats, and any other form of sinner that the world has. And that is a truly beautiful thing, to accept those people who need Jesus the most. But the one person we forget about is that young man or woman who is so afraid of our society, one the church has helped create, that they hide in themselves the love they feel for others and a fundamental part of who they are. It needs to change. And I know that it can, because there are plenty of young people who feel the same way that I do. I am not directing this at anyone, and I know I have plenty of friends who would agree with me, and are actively seeking to be an example of Christ’s love to those people who the church continues to shut out. But now we need to take action, either in the form of addressing our churches and congregations, to supporting efforts that help LGBT people in the face of oppression, to simply being the shining light of love and acceptance that Christ sent us out into the world to be. We are the future of Christ’s body of work here on earth, the city on a hill that is to be a guiding light. We need to shine for everyone.

A Moment of Honesty

I feel like I need to be open about something in my life that isn’t easy to discuss.

Honestly, I feel completely lost in my spiritual life.

It’s not that any of my fundamental beliefs have changed, or I’m really doubting my faith, it’s just that for some reason I’ve stopped trying. Apathy made it’s way into my life over the last few months, and it’s been difficult to shake because I don’t really want to shake it all that much. It’s hard for me to explain, because it’s not that I don’t care about my spirituality, I just stopped caring about trying if that makes any sense. Not to make excuses for myself or complain in any way, but I had a really difficult semester for the last few months. School all of the sudden decided to throw everything it could at me, and I was struggling to stay afloat. Sure, my grades turned out okay, and I did get some great experience, but I feel like I almost died trying to get there. It seemed like I could never get ahead, and instead I was barely keeping pace. I also felt like no matter how hard I tried I wasn’t getting the results I deserved. I lacked confidence in myself and my abilities, and my constant fear of how others will react to my actions lead to a lot of panic attacks in the middle of the night before my clinical rotation the next day. I was exhausted and burnt out, which made me grumpy, cynical, and pretty much just no fun to be around. I suffered and as a result those around me suffered. I became distant and in a way cold to those I cared about the most. I was not upholding my end of those relationships, and I could feel them slowly unraveling as a result. I was so exhausted that I stopped caring about myself, too. I wasn’t taking care of myself, and rarely made time to relax from everything that was happening around me. I was afraid that if I stopped worrying constantly it would all come crashing down around me. I’ve always had trouble trusting God to take care of my worries, but I stopped trying altogether. I was afraid to let go for fear that everything I’ve worked so hard for would amount to nothing more than a house of cards.

So I stopped caring.

I essentially cut off my relationship with God almost completely. It wasn’t sudden, but a gradual erosion that I didn’t notice until it was already too late. You would think that after noticing this I would try to work my way back, right?

Nope.

I was so frustrated and exhausted and overwhelmingly apathetic about it that I just refused to try. And it’s still really hard for me to. I’m trying, slowly but surely, to get myself back to a place where I feel that I am right with God. I don’t want to hide, and I don’t want to keep trying to do everything on my own, but it’s hard and it’s scary for me. I want to be strong in my faith so that I can be strong in my other relationships. Because without God at my center, everything else spirals out of orbit. I owe it not only to myself, but to those that I love and care about.

I say these things not only to get them off my chest, but hopefully to help someone. If any of you feel the way I do, please understand that it’s okay. You don’t need to be afraid to be honest to others about your struggles, because if they truly care you won’t be judged. Having and maintaining a faithful relationship with God is difficult. Their are periods where it feels like you are all alone with only your overwhelming problems, and other times where you don’t see how you could ever feel anything but loved and surrounded by God. Please, if anyone feels how I do and needs someone to turn to, I would be more than happy to be a friendly, listening ear. And I thank all of you reading this for your encouraging role in my life, whatever that may be.

The Problem of Masculinity

Video: The Problem of Masculinity

Disclaimer: This all kind of just fell out of my head this morning, so I apologize if my thoughts seem jumbled and I start repeating myself. I wanted to get this out there as it came to my mind. This is a subject I’m sure I’ll talk more about at a later time, but right now this is what I want to say.

I saw this video a few days ago, and it really stuck with me. As a society, I think we really need to reevaluate our concept of what it means to “be a man”. So often we get caught up in the idea that a man is what the movies or books make him out to be. A person who lacks any kind of depth or feeling, and is simply “cool, calm, and collected”. The man who fights the bad guy, wins the girl, and does it all without even breaking a sweat. We are taught from when we are little that a man is tough, wild, and only answers to himself (I realize this may seem like an over-generalization, but deep down this is what a lot of men believe). Many times, were are scared to show the true feelings of our heart and soul, because that makes us so vulnerable. And a man isn’t supposed to be like that. The amount of times that we are told to “man up” (or some other variation of this) is astounding. I’m pretty sure I heard it at least once every day back when I played sports in high school. Now, I never was and never will be athletic in any way, and I realize now that this simple fact really affected me when I was younger. There is so much emphasis put on the physical aspects of a man, without really going into the other 90% of what we’re really made of. I’ve always found beauty in music, literature, and art, and I would much rather read a book or spend time outdoors in personal reflection, but all that is considered “unmanly”. Even though I know that statement is untrue, I still feel that it is true in the very core of my being. Many times I feel inadequate because I don’t know how to do things I feel a man is supposed to: like use power tools, build something, fix a car, or any number of things. I find it almost impossible to divulge my innermost feelings, even to the woman I’ve been closest to for the last four years. There are just so many things inside of me – so much pain, anger, and sadness – that attempting to bring it up just leaves me angry, frustrated, and more confused than when I’d started. I have the tendency to internalize everything, and it only further fuels the pain that I’m experiencing.

But I’m not out of hope yet. I’m working really hard to better myself, and to hopefully break this cycle that I feel so entrapped in. It isn’t easy, and sometimes I just want to give up because I feel like I’m making no progress. Being honest not only with others but with myself is one of the most difficult things I’ve done, and although it hurts, I am committed to being a better person, a better man than what I’ve been molded into thus far. I say all these things because I believe it essential that all of us men take a look inside ourselves, and finally be honest with our own identity. We are wild, dangerous, and free, but we are also loving, feeling, thinking beings that were wonderfully and fearfully made by God.

An Unwavering Band of Light

“I now give you my word of honor,” he went on, “that the picture your city owns shows everything about life which truly matters, with nothing left out. It is a picture of the awareness of every animal. It is the immaterial core of every animal – the ‘I am’ to which all messages are sent. It is all that is alive in any of us – in a mouse, in a deer, in a cocktail waitress. It is unwavering and pure, no matter what preposterous adventure may befall us. A sacred picture of Saint Anthony alone is one vertical, unwavering band of light. If a cockroach were near him, or a cocktail waitress, the picture would show two such bands of light. Our awareness is all that is alive and maybe sacred in any of us. Everything else about us is dead machinery.

— Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions